Good family camping close to home in Fryingpan Valley
Crispy, charbroiled hot dogs and too many sticky roasted marshmallows for dinner aren’t exactly part of a healthy adult diet. And a 3-year-old who’s cranky because he was too excited about a fun trip to nap can be a handful. But these are just some of the things that distinguish a good family camping trip. One of the best places for family camping in the area is the U.S. Forest Service Chapman Campground located approximately 25 miles east of Basalt in the beautiful Fryingpan Valley. The campground is easily accessible on paved roads, relatively close and well maintained by campground hosts through the national company Thousand Trails.With 83 campsites and one group site broken up into seven sections, there is a camping spot for almost every taste, from creekside to lakeside to tent-only sites. The relatively small Chapman Reservoir, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934, provides fishing and boating opportunities.
At 8,800 feet, the campground is just high enough to escape the heat of Glenwood Springs or New Castle without being too cold at night for dozing off in a good sleeping bag.On our Saturday visit, friendly campground hosts Vern and Sharon Wrosch – who are from Kansas but have hosted at various campsites across Colorado – stopped by to let campers know about the naturalist program provided by the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy. This particular night, Conservancy intern Krista Prokosch presented an interesting, kid-friendly program about survival skills. She taught the group to STOP – stop, think, observe and plan – if lost in the wilderness. She explained the seven keys to survival and how long a person can last before needing each item. First on the list, she said, is a PMA, or positive mental attitude, which is crucial within three seconds. Next, logically, is oxygen, needed within three minutes. After that, warmth and shelter are needed in three hours, sleep and water in three days, and, finally, food in three weeks. That caught the attention of most of the adults listening who thought they could not go that long without eating.Prokosch received a friendly round of applause after demonstrating how to gather thin twigs and dry pine needles and fashion them into a log-cabin-shaped pile to start a one-match fire.Chapman Campground also is a good jumping-off location for other activities such as four-wheeling to 11,925-foot Hagerman Pass to the east, horseback riding with a nearby family-operated outfitting company, and biking or hiking a wide range of scenic trails in the area. Put the infant or toddler in a hiking backpack or inspire the older kids by taking a family hike to a beautiful high-mountain lake.
Some of our favorite moderate trails starting not too far from the campground include Lyle Lake and Mormon Lake, as well as Savage Lakes in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area.The hike to Savage Lakes is beautiful and only four miles round trip with a 1,270-foot elevation gain climbing up to near timberline at 11,150 feet. Don’t miss going around the first Savage Lake to walk up another 100 feet in elevation to the second lake.Since you are already camping in the area and don’t have to endure a long drive for a quick hike, after a bit of rough road, the walk to Lyle Lake is nice if the kids are straggling that day. Or try to make the total seven-mile round trip to see scenic Mormon Lake for great views from the ridgeline between the two lakes.Don’t forget the sunscreen and the kid-safe mosquito repellent because even though Chapman Campground was surprisingly light on mosquitoes during our visit, the trails in the area were loaded with the pesky blood-suckers.Back at the campground, even the most careful of parents might find camping to be a danger sport with a precocious and energetic 3-year-old along. While we thought the group of teen-age boys across the camping loop might be the ones to break the campground noise curfew, it was actually our preschooler’s wails that pierced the quiet night air. Unless you know wilderness first aid for a hole bitten into the side of a tongue after tripping and hitting chin-first on a rock, you probably want to tire out your little ones and put them to bed by dark.
In Colorado, be sure always to employ proper bear-proof procedures while camping, and watch for the ground squirrels and birds at many campsites that are ready to repeatedly sneak attack your sandwich fixings. Our family camping trips at higher elevations this summer, such as a recent trip near Leadville, are always interesting, even when the fun is sitting in the truck and watching the lightning flash and listening to the thunder roar while the hail tears holes in the new tent fly, leading to a slightly soggy night.Despite the extra trouble of camping with young ones, it’s the smiles on that little boy’s face and the glee in his voice that make the trip worthwhile.Suzie Romig is a New Castle freelance writer and outdoor activity enthusiast. She especially enjoys hiking and downhill skiing.
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